The Mitchells vs. the Machines


Cellphone armageddon.

(2021) Animated Feature (Netflix/Columbia) Starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Teigan, John Legend, Charlyne Yi, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien, Doug the Pug, Jay Pharaoh, Melissa Sturm, Doug Nicholas, Jeff Rowe, Madeleine McGraw, Ellen Wightman, Sasheer Zarmata. Directed by Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

 
We have let the tech genii out of the bottle, like it or not. The generations that have grown up with in the digital age are more comfortable looking at a smartphone screen than they are into the eyes of another human being. I suppose that might be perceived as a knock, but at the risk of being offensive, it’s just an expression of the way things are. Whether you think that’s a good thing, a bad thing or not a thing at all, it is the way it is.

Katie (Jacobson) is a proud online card-carrying member of the smartphone generation. An aspiring filmmaker, her joy comes from making short comedy films starring the family pug (Romé lives!) which eventually gets her accepted into the filmmaking school at CalArts (not for nothing, but that is the alma mater of many of the heavyweights in modern computer animation, as well as my own sister who is a graphic designer).

Predictably, her pragmatic father (McBride) doesn’t understand her – “You can make a living at that?” he asks incredulously when informed of his daughter’s intended major – which his wife (Rudolph) gently (or maybe not so gently) nudges him in the direction of spending time with his daughter before losing her forever. His solution is to drive his little girl to college as a family road trip, which he doesn’t realize is stressing her out because she will lose time getting oriented with her new tribe with whom she has already connected with online.

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley where the chips always land where they may, PAL CEO Mark (André) is unveiling a new AI replacing the old one (Colman) who doesn’t take kindly to being cast aside. She decides to take matters into her own non-existant hands and reprograms a fleet of service robots to capture humans and imprison them in “fun pods,” conquering the Earth in the name of Big Tech. I imagine a few QAnon believers might think this could actually happen.

The family is blissfully unaware of all that is happening until they see fleets of robots kidnapping humans and realize that the apocalypse isn’t going to be brought about by zombies, but by robots. That’s right, pop culture fans – Robert Kirkman lied to you. Get over it. As it turns out that they become one of the last few families that hasn’t been captured and of course, one of mankind’s last remaining hopes when Katie figures out a kill code that could shut down the technology overthrow. But can they input it into the system in time?

It is perhaps ironic that a movie exhibiting a healthy distrust of technology is told in computer animataion on an online streaming platform. To be fair, the movie was meant to come out in theaters, but the coronavirus ad other plans. After a couple of delays and title changes, the movie was finally sold to Netflix and released online this past April (assuming you’re reading this before March 31, 2022). However, that might be fitting in that the clear target audience for the movie is the ones who feel more comfortable streaming movies at home rather than actually going to a movie theater.

The movie is full of pop culture references ranging from Furbies to Star Wars to Greta Gerwig to SNL. Although PAL is meant to be an amalgam of Apple and Amazon (a terrifying thought if ever there was one). It also has fanboy cred in that is produced by the white hot duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who neither wrote nor directed this, although their influence on the film is as plain as the nose on my face.

The main drawback here is that other than Colman, who seems to be having the time of her life as the homicidal AI, most of the voice cast is oddly subdued and bland which considering the kind of cast they have is mystifying. There are some real laugh-out-loud funny moments but other okes may leave you flat. They are exploring a real disconnect between generations, and things that millennials and younger viewers will get may fly over the heads of older viewers and vice versa. And perhaps that is part of the movie’s overall point.

I have to admit I was left a little bit cold by all of this, although I grant you that perhaps I was not in the right space to watch this movie. It HAS been a big critical success, although the numbers released by Netflix don’t have it necessarily up there with some of the other would-be theatrical releases that were forced into streaming platforms when it became clear that it would not be getting a favorable release date anytime soon, and a movie like this has a definite shelf life – many of the references and depictions here will be archaic by the time 2022 comes along and I won’t even consider how dated it will seem in five years. But that’s just the nature of the world we live in now.

REASONS TO SEE: The animation is occasionally breathtaking.
REASONS TO AVOID: The voice cast is surprisingly lackluster.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of kidflick action and some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Falls, was a story consultant for the film. Rowe and Rianda both directed for the series.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/1/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Goodbye Honey

Them That Follow


(2019) Documentary (1091) Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman, Thomas Mann, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan, Kaitlyn Dever, Dominic Cancelliere, Annie Tedesco, Bradley Gallo, Katherine DeBoer, Brooks Roseberry, Erik Andrews, Connor Daniel Lysholm, Catherine L. Albers, Kami Amore, Chris Breen, Logan Fry, Christine M. Pratt, Ramona Schwalbach. Directed by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage

It is said that faith can move mountains, but in the mountains of Appalachia faith is much more than that. Faith is everything; one’s devotion to God must be absolute. There are no other alternatives. In some rural churches, faith is a life or death equation.

Mara (Englert) is the pretty young daughter of Pentecostal preacher Lemuel Childs (Goggins). Lemuel is part of the snake handler sect which requires his flock to prove their devotion to God by allowing a venomous rattlesnake to be draped around their neck. If the snake leaves them alone, fine; that’s God telling you that your faith is sufficient. However, if the snake elects to sink its fangs into you, you’ll undergo an agonizing slow death unless you can fight off the venom. With the help of friends or family praying away, anyone who succumbs to the snake bite does so due to a lack of faith, not to a lack of medical care which the congregation eschews.

It’s a highly patriarchal society in which women are made to wear ankle length skirts, perform roles of cooking, cleaning and child-rearing and to be absolutely submissive to their husbands. They are not even supposed to drive, making this a kind of Saudi America. If the Muslims hadn’t claimed the burkas first, I wouldn’t be surprised if the women of the congregation were made to wear them.

Mara is at an age where she is ready to be married. Daddy has picked out intense Garret (Pullman), a member of the parish and a true believer. However, Mara is kind of sweet on Augie (Mann), the son of local gas station/market owner Hope (Colman) who is known more commonly as Sister Slaughter. She was a bit of a hellraiser in her youth but her husband Zeke (Gaffigan) has essentially calmed her down. As for Augie, he is anything but a true believer; in fact he’s an atheist. His mother tolerates it pretty much as you tolerate the drunk uncle in the family.

Mara and her good friend Dilly (Devers) are inseparable, especially since Dilly’s mom abandoned her in fleeing the church and community which isn’t especially tolerant of free thinkers, particularly among the women. However, Mara is carrying a secret of her own and when it gets out it could rock the entire community to its core.

The feel here is authentic Appalachia; although the movie was filmed in Ohio it feels more like West Virginia. The gorgeous cinematography from Brett Jurkiewicz helps set that particular mood, as does the set design – Lemuel’s church is in a converted barn with only a neon cross to differentiate it from other barns. The life of the mountain folk here are pretty simple and uncomplicated; there are no television sets and things move at a fairly slow place, like the land the Internet forgot.

In fact, one of the drawbacks to the film is that the pacing is maddeningly slow particularly through the first two thirds of the movie. It does pick up speed towards the end, though so if you can sit through the first hour, you should be golden the rest of the way.

However, there’s still the performances of Goggins and Englert to enjoy; the two of them have a real chemistry and they both embrace their roles with gusto. Colman, who is a recent Oscar-winner, sounds a bit uncomfortable with the Southern accent, but she is solid as well as are Pullman and Mann as Maras two suitors. Gaffigan, a gifted comedy actor, shows off his dramatic chops nicely here.

The movie is largely about how far you are willing to take your faith before it becomes unhealthy. It’s hard not to see comparisons between these cultish Pentecostals and modern Evangelicals who seem to be grabbing the headlines lately. The directors respect the faith of the characters here which is nice to see; too often Hollywood tends to be either dismissive of characters with faith, or in the case of Christian cinema, too proselytizing. Some of the snake scenes are pretty horrible to watch and the sensitive sorts might want to take a pass on it, or at least watch it those scenes with eyes tightly shut and a trusted friend to tell you when to open them up again.

I’m not sure why anyone would think that God requires you to prove your faith by taking a rattlesnake to your breast, but some believe that it is so. The movie isn’t going to give you any answers in that direction but it is going to show you characters with strong faith and strong convictions – not to make them look evil, or backward but if anything to remind us that some good people sometimes believe in things that the rest of us might not understand – or accept.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is gorgeous. Englert and Goggins deliver incendiary performances.
REASONS TO AVOID: Moves at a fairly slow and languid pace.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity, an attempted rape and some disturbing violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lewis Pullman is the son of actor Bill Pullman who memorably played the President in Independence Day and its sequel.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Apostle
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
ZZ Top: That Lil’ Ole Band from Texas

New Releases for the Week of August 9, 2019


THE KITCHEN

(New Line) Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss, Domhnall Gleeson, James Badge dale, Brian d’Arcy James, Common, Margo Martindale. Directed by Andrea Berloff

In Hell’s Kitchen in 1978, the wives of three low-level hoods in the Irish Mafia find themselves in dire financial straits when their husbands are sent to jail. Despite assurances by the mob that they’ll be taken care of, it turns out that it’s all just lip service. Desperate, the ladies take matters into their own hands and start running their husband’s rackets on their own.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for violence, language throughout and some sexual content)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

(20th Century Fox) Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Baker, Kevin Costner (voice). A puppy, picked up by an aspiring Formula One race car driver, grows philosophical, realizing that the techniques that make one successful on the race course also apply to success in life.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for thematic material)

Brian Banks

(Bleecker Street) Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Melanie Liburd. A young high school All-American football player is ready to take that first step towards turning pro when he enrolls at the University of Southern California but finds his plans derailed when he is accused, tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. After years of trying to prove his innocence, he at last is successful and is determined to fulfill his interrupted dream of playing in the NFL.

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Sports Biography
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and related images, and for language)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

(Paramount) Isabella Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria. The beloved Nickelodeon animated show Dora the Explorer gets a live action treatment as high schooler Dora along with her faithful monkey companion and some of her pals from school go on a wild adventure in the jungles of South America to save her parents and solve the mystery behind a legendary city of gold.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action and some impolite humor)

ECCO

(Citadel) Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters. A former assassin, living quietly with his family away from his former life, finds his cover blown by his former employers. Now he must rely on his skills to protect his loved ones and hunt down those who betrayed him and in whom all his sins reside.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for violence including bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity)

Rapid Eye Movement

(Vertical) Reiko Aylesworth, Francois Arnaud, Danny Ramirez, Rebecca Watson. A radio DJ, attempting to break the world record for staying awake, is beset by a troubled caller warning him to raise $5 million for charity or face disturbing consequences.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Suspense
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

(CBS/Lionsgate) Zoe Margaret Colletti, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Michael Garza. A group of teens find a book of terrifying tales written by a young girl named Sarah whose terrible images turn out to be all too real.

See the trailer, video featurettes, a clip and a promo here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references)

Them That Follow

(1091) Olivia Colman, Kathryn Dever, Walton Goggins, Jim Gaffigan. In this 2019 Florida Film Festival favorite, a young girl raised in a church that practices serpent handling, the pastor prepares for his daughter’s wedding, which unwittingly unleashes a secret that may change the girl’s perception of her father forever.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG (for ] language, thematic elements, some suggestive content and brief smoking images)
 

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Bring the Soul: The Musical
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Light of My Life
Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai
Parey Hut Love

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Best Summer of My Life
The Bravest
Bring the Soul: The Musical
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Jabariya Jodi
Manmadhudu 2
Nekrotronic
Nerkonda Paarvai
The Quiet One

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Bravest
Hamlet Pheroun
Hello, Love, Goodbye
Jabariya Jodi
Kobbari Matta
Nerkonda Paarvai

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Manmadhudu 2
Nerkonda Paarvai

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Brian Banks
The Kitchen
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Them That Follow

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Popcorn Frights Film Festival, Fort Lauderdale

The Favourite


Off with their heads!

(2018) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Carolyn Saint-Pé, Edward Aczel, John Locke, William Dalby, Anthony Dougall, Emma Delves, Faye Daveney, Jennifer White, LillyRose Stevens, Denise Mack, Everal Walsh, James Melville, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Liam Fleming, Jenny Rainsford.  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

 

Power often trickles down from the top, particularly in monarchies. Back when kings and queens ruled nearly everywhere, it was preferable to be close to the reigning monarch in order to wield enormous power. Often the King or Queen’s right hand funneled the information to the ruler with a decidedly slanted point of view and their influence often dictated policy. In some ways, it’s no different today.

In the era of Queen Anne (Colman) of England, that spot at her right hand was occupied by Sarah Churchill (Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough. With a war with France raging, Sarah had aligned herself with Minister of Finance Lord Godolphin (Smith) of the Tories who urged higher taxes to pay for the war, which not coincidentally was being waged by the Duke of Marlborough (Gatiss), Sarah’s husband. Opposing this is the Whigs led by Lord Richard Harley (Hoult) who mainly represented rural concerns who felt the greater brunt of the taxes as well as supplying the bulk of soldiers for the front.

While Kensington Palace where the Queen resided was blissfully insulated from the rest of England, into this atmosphere comes Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Stone) who was once a noblewoman who was eventually sold by her wastrel father to pay off gambling debts. Penniless, she hoped to find work in the Palace courtesy of her cousin.

A flare-up of the Queen’s painful and debilitating gout gives Abigail her opportunity to move up the ladder. Smart and resourceful, the new scullery maid knows how to make a concoction that can bring relief to the Queen’s condition. Grateful, Anne brings Abigail into her inner circle, much to Sarah’s consternation. The two cousins are well-aware of the other’s ambitious nature and as the two collide in a battle for the Queen’s affections, both women will stop at nothing to get what they want; Abigail to acquire power and Sarah to retain it.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has already put together an impressive filmography which includes Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of Sacred Deer – and yes there are lobsters herein, briefly. This is easily his most accessible film to date but that doesn’t make this mainstream. Lanthimos has a habit of making his audience view things in a slightly oddball way, be it through a script that’s oddball or in this particular case, through unusual camera angles and lenses – period pieces as this one is generally tend to use fairly straightforward angles and standard lenses. Here we get Anne gong down a long corridor through a fish-eye lens, causing it to look like she’s rounding a turn or a scene of Abigail sitting against a wall with lush tapestries sitting so still you’d swear she was part of the tableaux.

The main attraction here are the stellar performances of the female leads, all of whom were nominated for Golden Globes with Colman nearly a shoo-in to get a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Both Weisz and Stone have Academy Awards already and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Colman will join them in that exclusive club. Her Anne is strident, a little bit mad, horribly lonely, and oddly vulnerable. She is a figure to be feared but also a figure to be pitied.

Both Abigail and Sarah are conniving, ruthless and devious. Stone and Weisz play them as very similar women but who have different ways of going about things. Sarah is one of the few who can tell the Queen the truth; Abigail is more of a flatterer but appeals to the Queen’s softer side. Both women also use the bedroom to help cement their relationships with the Queen – one of the more questionable facts of the movie which is loosely based on actual events – some historians have complained a bit too loosely but that’s par for the course.

The production design is magnificent and we get a real sense of living in the early 18th century in the mansions and palaces of the court. The costumes are also likely to get an Oscar nomination; the Whigs are foppishly dressed in elaborate powdered wigs and a slathering of make-up, whereas the Tories tend towards more 17th century dress with wigs of natural color and less flamboyant clothes (and no make-up). The look of the movie is as lush as any you’ll see this year.

While the comedy is ultimately fairly black, there is a melancholy that starts to spread into the film late in the second half that is intriguing. Sadly, Lanthimos allows the movie to go on a bit too long, leading to a surreptitious checking of watches by the audience. Some of the intrigue could have been cut back to make the movie a little more zippy.

This is one of the most critically praised movies of the year and anyone who loves the Oscars will need to keep this on their list of must-sees as it is likely to have a fair amount of nominations. A Best Picture nomination isn’t out of the question either, although I found it not quite as entertaining as I would have liked personally. I also found the pacing a little wonky in places and some of the humor too dry for my taste.

There are a few anachronisms, not all of them obvious, but for the most part this is a strong Oscar contender that has three terrific performances, a nice dichotomy of tones and a gilded atmosphere that will delight the eye. As I said, essential viewing for Oscar watchers but perhaps when all is said and done, just short of being an essential film.

REASONS TO GO: The performances by the three leading ladies are all Oscar-worthy and all portraying strong women in their own way. The period is captured nicely with terrific production design and costuming.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a little bit overpraised.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of sexual content, graphic nudity and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first time Colman has played a British monarch; she will also portray Queen Elizabeth II in the upcoming third season of The Crown, succeeding Claire Foy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Madness of King George
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Quake

New Releases for the Week of December 7, 2018


THE FAVOURITE

(Fox Searchlight) Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Hoult, John Locke, James Smith, Carolyn Saint-Pé. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

During the reign of Queen Anne, two courtiers vie for the position of companion to the frail but mercurial queen; one woman seeking to attain power and return to the aristocracy she was born in, the other trying to retain power. Lanthimos has become a favorite among film cognoscenti with such titles as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer to his credit.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity and language)

At Eternity’s Gate

(CBS) Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen. The life and times of renowned painter Vincent van Gogh, as taken from his letters, contemporary accounts, gossip and just plain fiction, from director Julien Schnabel who wowed audiences a few years ago with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic content)

Mirai

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of John Cho, Rebecca Hall, Daniel Dae Kim, Victoria Grace. A four year old boy, jealous of the attention his baby sister Mirai is receiving from his parents, storms off into the garden only to meet people from the past, present and future who tell him the incredible story of his family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release (Saturday only)
Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some scary images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Appearance
Back Roads
Bennie the Dolphin
Kedarnath
Subramanypuram
Swimming with Men
Three Words to Forever
Weightless

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Asher
Lila’s Book
Narcissister Organ Player
Revival!
Subramanypuram
Three Words to Forever
Twiceland

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

All the Devil’s Men
Bernie the Dolphin
Kedarnath
Subramanypuram

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Kedarnath
Subramanypuram
Three Words to Forever
Wildlife

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Favourite
Swimming with Men

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Hercule Poirot is on the job!

(2017) Mystery (20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzan, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Phil Dunster, Miranda Raison, Rami Nasr, Hayat Kamille, Michael Rouse, Hadley Fraser, Kathryn Wilder. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

 

Train travel has a certain romance to it. Strangers trapped in a metal tube, rumbling across the countryside. Anything can happen; anything at all.

Many might be familiar with the classic Agatha Christie novel, one of the most famous mysteries ever written. Some might be familiar with the even more classic 1974 movie based on it which starred such legends as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Richard Widmark. This new remake stars Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney in the original) who is returning to England following a grueling series of cases leading to a successful resolution in Istanbul – not Constantinople.

Taking the Orient Express back home, he is approached by Ratchett (Depp) who is looking for protection after receiving some threatening letters. Poirot, exhausted, turns down the case. The next morning, Ratchett turns up dead. The train is stuck after an avalanche buries the tracks. As crews arrive to dig the tracks out so the train might continue, Poirot must solve the case quickly but there are a number of suspects – everyone in the Calais coach had opportunity and some even had motive. Soon it becomes apparent that the murder has links to a famous unsolved crime of years past.

The Sidney Lumet-directed 1974 version to which this will inevitably be compared was a light-hearted romp with a Poirot who was quirky but undoubtedly a genius. This Poirot is more tortured than quirky, a man who realizes his own obsession with perfection will leave him perpetually disappointed in life and of course he is. This is a different Poirot than any we’ve ever seen onscreen, whether David Suchet of the excellent BBC series or Peter Ustinov of several all-star Christie cinematic adaptations which followed the success of Murder on the Orient Express. The tone here is certainly darker than we’re used to seeing from a Christie adaptation.

Michelle Pfeiffer turns in an extraordinary performance as the predatory divorcee Mrs. Hubbard, portrayed by Bacall back in 1974. While Bacall was loud-mouthed and brassy, Pfeiffer is intense and smart. Once again the characters are very different although there are some recognizable similarities. Pfeiffer twenty years ago was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood which she remains; that beauty often overshadowed her acting talent which is considerable. Although not in the league of Meryl Streep (who is in a league of her own), she is one of the four or five best American actresses working in film today.

Most of the rest of the cast do at least adequate jobs. Depp is as restrained as he’s been in a decade, playing Ratchett as a thug more so than Widmark did in the same role. Dame Judi Dench is, well, Judi Dench. She brings dignity and a regal air to the role of Princess Dragomiroff. Penélope Cruz has a thanklessly un-glamorous role that she makes her own.

I should mention the cinematography. The 1974 film primarily took place aboard the train. Certainly the Orient Express is the star and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos takes great pains to present her from every angle conceivable. Occasionally he goes a bit overboard – an overhead shot in one of the train’s cars gives us an uncomfortably long view of the tops of the actors heads – but he also manages to make the snowy Yugoslavian countryside look positively idyllic.

Let me be plain; this film is not as good as the 1974 version and I don’t think Branagh had any illusions that it ever could be. However, it is different than that 1974 version and one that is just as valid. You may not love this film in the same way that you loved the original but there is a good chance you’ll at least respect it. You may even want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Fans of the 1974 version will find the approach here very different. Branagh and Pfeiffer are outstanding. The cinematography is gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: The tone here is much darker than the 1974 version. This isn’t nearly as good as the original which it will inevitably be compared to. You don’t get as good a sense of the era it is supposed to be set in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as violent thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The song played over the closing credits was sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and the lyrics written by Branagh.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death on the Nile
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wonder

Locke


Tom Hardy discovers that he can't go home again.

Tom Hardy discovers that he can’t go home again.

(2013) Drama (A24) Tom Hardy. Starring the voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Alice Lowe, Silas Carson, Lee Ross, Kristy Dillon. Directed by Steven Knight

As we drive from point A to point B, we are in our own insulated little world in our cars, surrounded by other people in their own little worlds. Do you ever wonder what dramas are taking place in those other vehicles, what life and death struggles are happening as our tiny little environments of steel and glass hurtle down the concrete ribbons in the night, each bound for its own private destination.

Ivan Locke (Hardy) is in one such car. He has knocked off of work at a construction site in Birmingham, England where he is the manager of a major project. The next morning is a big day on his job – the pouring of concrete to lay the foundation for the tower he is building. It is going to be one of the largest concrete pours in European history and things have to go just right.

Except Locke won’t be there. He has an errand of his own, a personal one. He is driving from Birmingham to London where a woman is waiting for him in a hospital bed. The woman is not his wife. Rather, his wife and two sons are preparing to watch the local football  team in a crucial match. That’s football as in soccer, by the way. In any case, the boys are excited, mom has bought some sausages to grill up and has even finally consented to wear the team jersey that Ivan bought for her and has been nagging her to wear on game days. But Locke won’t be there either.

During the course of the night he will drive down British highways through varying degrees of rush hour traffic while talking on a hands free mobile phone built into the dashboard of his SUV. He will nursemaid his second in command through the necessary steps of preparing the construction site for the big pour. He will try to explain to his boss why he is acting the way he is, and the same to his wife while trying to at least maintain a veneer of normalcy for his sons. The longer the drive continues, the more that veneer cracks and threatens to fall apart.

This is not your usual sort of drama. Other than the opening scene in which we see other anonymous faceless construction workers leaving the job site, Hardy is the only person we ever see onscreen. He interacts with other actors on the phone, wispy spectral voices that question Ivan’s judgment and even his sanity.

Ivan Locke is a fastidious sort. Respected in his profession, a solid family man, he nevertheless has made a crucial error in his personal life and is now trying to make it right. In his mind at least he’s doing the right thing – viewers may disagree, but Ivan Locke, once his mind is made up, never wavers in his course. It separates him from his father, whom Ivan addresses in the car from time to time even though dear old dad, an alcoholic who abandoned his family, has been dead for some time. Ivan has never forgiven him however; he would love to dig up dear old dad just to desecrate his bones.

Hardy is best known for playing the masked terrorist Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. There he is behind a mask with his voice electronically modulated but still Bane is perhaps the best thing about the movie. Here, Hardy shows just how good an actor he is, something that those who saw Bronson already knew. While his ascendance to Hollywood stardom has left him with some fluffy roles as of late, he certainly has plenty of chops to carry this through.

And he does. We see Ivan’s facade slowly crumble. While his voice is even and calm with a Welsh accent adding color to the part, we see in Hardy’s eyes the depth of frustration and doubt that assaults him. Ivan Locke knows what he is doing will have consequences that will be bitter, but even so he insists on trying to apply logic and practicality to a situation that he is painfully unequipped to handle because one thing Ivan Locke doesn’t understand is human emotion. So he drives through the night, downing cold medicine and blowing his nose. This isn’t just business for its own sake as other critics have intimated; Hardy actually had a cold during filming so his illness was written into the script.

When his wife wails “You love your buildings more than me,” she isn’t far from the truth. Ivan waxes rhapsodic about concrete, of stealing a part of the sky for this new tower. When asked why he is doing it, he says “I’m doing it for my building. I’m doing it for the concrete.” Locke, whose childhood was apparently full of instability, relishes the permanence of a well-laid foundation.

This might sound like a boring picture but thanks to some clever cinematography and on the basis of Hardy’s searing performance it is anything but. My wife and I were immersed in the film from beginning to end. Some may look at the manner of storytelling as a gimmick and I have to admit that in most hands it certainly would have turned out that way. Here however thanks to the elements I mentioned the gimmick works and how often can you say that truly?

REASONS TO GO: Mesmerizing performance by Hardy. Compelling story and clever concept.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might find it gimmicky.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language can get pretty raw. The themes are a little bit on the adult side.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Hardy filmed his role in six days. The other actors were all in a hotel room and read their lines over the phone to Hardy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Godzilla